The Harvard-Westlake vs. Loyola water polo matchup certainly seemed like it would be quite a battle, steeped in tradition.
“For two private schools in L.A., it’s like Italy-Spain, Russia-U.S.A. or UCLA-USC,” Harvard-Westlake Coach Richard Corso said Tuesday as he watched the Wolverines and Cubs warming up in Loyola’s pool.
“Anytime we put on a Harvard uniform and come over to Loyola . . . we know what we have to do.”
Such lofty imagery for such a one-sided match.
The Wolverines thrashed Loyola, 19-6, in the Mission League opener. Harvard-Westlake (6-0), ranked third in Southern Section Division I, was clearly in a different class from Loyola (2-5).
Why such a gap between the Wolverines and Loyola?
“Coaching,” answered Harvard-Westlake seniors Richard Won and Peter Kiefer simultaneously.
The duo referred to Corso, who also is head coach of the U.S. Olympic team, and the rigorous, successful program he has engineered in his eight years at Harvard-Westlake.
“We work out a helluva lot, probably twice as much as they do,” said Won, a driver who scored two goals and repeatedly pressured the Cubs’ defense with aggressive offensive play. “It also helps that our coach is the head coach of the Olympic team.”
What also helped Tuesday was that Loyola appeared to be timid and was overwhelmed early in the match. The Wolverines jumped to a 6-0 lead in the opening quarter and were never threatened.
Senior two-meter player Ryan Flynn scored three of the team’s first four goals and finished with four. JJ Arden and Jason Manning added three goals and Ronald Scott scored twice.
Dave Van Wagner scored Loyola’s first goal with 10 seconds left in the first quarter, and added two goals in the second quarter, making the halftime score 8-3.
The Cubs drew to within 10-6 in the third quarter, but the Wolverines scored the final nine goals, including a length-of-the-pool lob shot by backup goalie Bepe Khayatian to close the scoring.
Despite the lopsided win, Corso spoke mainly of the improvements his team needs to make.
“I’m not so much concerned with results as with performance,” he said. “We should be able to adjust quicker to the tactics of the opposition. At one point I had to call a timeout and just about get a chalkboard out and draw it out for them, so I’m not happy about that.
“Even though it was Loyola, we had a big mental letdown after our big win (in the Millikan tournament last weekend).”
If having a mental letdown means winning by 13 goals, that does not bode well for the rest of the league. But Loyola Coach Nick Wooler and other league coaches think Harvard-Westlake, which graduated three All-Americans, is uncharacteristically vulnerable.
“They’re as beatable as they’ve been in years,” Loyola Coach Nick Wooler said. “They’re not as powerful as they used to be.
“They’re still very fundamentally sound. They’re very well-coached, they hustle to every ball and they counterattack at every opportunity. They just outplayed us.”